IATA pilots next-generation airline standards with DevOps and AWS
This aviation industry leader is poised to innovate and transform operations while securing customer data when the industry rebounds from the pandemic.
IATA wanted to maximize the time during the pandemic disruption to innovate and achieve its goals of becoming leaner, meaner and greener — including accelerating its IT transformation.Solutions Cloud, Elastic Engineering, Multicloud, Public Cloud Platforms Cloud, Amazon Web Services (AWS), VMware
On a modernization mission
The aviation industry has been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, with airlines working on average at 30% capacity in 2020 compared to 2019 — and forecasted to drop to 20% in the final quarter of 2020. This drop in business has left most airline organizations in survival mode.
However, the International Air Transportation Association (IATA), which supports the aviation industry with global standards for airline safety, security, efficiency and sustainability, has decided to turn the slowdown into an opportunity to innovate its IT operation and prepare for a leaner, meaner and greener future.
Pascal Buchner, Director of ITS and CTO at IATA, explained, “We don’t expect to be running at the capacity we were prior to COVID-19 until at least 2025. It is therefore vital that we are able to reduce our outgoing costs. But we also want to use this time to our advantage. Anything we can do now to innovate and transform our operations will be vital for scaling back up effectively when that time eventually comes, and for meeting customer expectations with the right health and safety precautions in place.”
IATA migrated from a private IT environment to Amazon Web Services (AWS) in 2014 and started working with Rackspace Technology® in 2017. After experiencing the impact of the pandemic, IATA decided to seek support to engage in a challenging goal: modernizing and streamlining its technology processes, while also reducing its operating costs.
“As is the case for most other aviation organizations, becoming more sustainable has been our goal for some time,” said Buchner. “While this hasn’t changed, the challenges presented by the pandemic have put other priorities on our radar, so not only do we need to become greener, but also we need to work towards becoming leaner and meaner.
“This means taking advantage of a modern architecture and removing legacy technology and processes from the equation,” added Buchner. “Doing so at such scale, while aiming to reduce costs significantly, may sound difficult to achieve, yet we believe that with the right technology partner by our side, we can be ready to operate as we want to by 2022. It’s about speed. If I can do it faster with less risk with a partner — and I believe Rackspace Technology is that partner — it will make this transformation a success.”
“It’s about speed. If I can do it faster with less risk with a partner — and I believe Rackspace Technology is that partner — it will make this transformation a success.”
Going leaner — scaling down to scale up
After conducting an architectural review of AWS with the support of Rackspace Technology, IATA was able to confirm that legacy applications were blocking its digital transformation. In addition, IATA wasn’t utilizing many of AWS’s best features, which could support its goal of streamlining activities, removing complexity and ensuring it could deliver maximum value with minimum resources — in other words, become leaner.
“The review highlighted that we weren’t leveraging new technologies and services like containers and serverless,” said Buchner. “This finding alone demonstrated to us the value of working with Rackspace Technology — to see where the gaps were and identify some quick wins to deliver savings, simplicity and increased automation.”
While embarking on this transformation, IATA also needed to lower its operational costs to accommodate the reduction in business operations. To help achieve the savings, Rackspace Technology moved the company to Rackspace Service Blocks, a flexible cloud services consumption model that enables IATA to select the services it needs at different stages in its cloud journey. As a result, IATA now also has access to CloudHealth by VMware®, which provides complete visibility into all of its cloud platforms and can help with cost optimization.
"We are small fish in a big pond that Rackspace Technology has far more expertise in. So, the support from the team will not only be a huge accelerator in getting the prototype to market, but is also vital to ensuring we avoid any traps and pitfalls along the way.”
Automating for speed and ease
IATA wanted to give more power to its developers, who were spending too much time on quality reviews and test processes when building software. The association recognized the potential to have Rackspace Technology support its team in adopting DevOps to make the process more effective.
“In the past, before making any software changes, we had to arrange change control meetings for impact assessment,” said Buchner. “Only after the resulting report was finalized and approved could we move forward with software updates. To streamline this process, we are aiming to use self-service platforms and minimize custom software development. This means integrating controls and applying automation, so that our developers can trigger testing automatically and put software into production at the click of a button.”
IATA is also planning to apply this level of automation across some of its back-office activities, such as financial services, as well as to implement contactless processes at the airports themselves.
“The reason people are not traveling today is because of the risk of infection from COVID-19 and the travel restrictions imposed by authorities,” explained Buchner. “We want to significantly reduce that risk by removing many of the contact points that passengers currently pass through during their airport journey, and give them the option to perform many airport tasks on their mobile devices.”
Buchner added, “Being able to deliver safety during COVID-19 is paramount to getting the industry back on its feet, and we cannot afford to make any mistakes, as many companies do when embarking on such an ambitious project. We are small fish in a big pond that Rackspace Technology has far more expertise in. So, the support from the team will not only be a huge accelerator in getting the prototype to market, but is also vital to ensuring we avoid any traps and pitfalls along the way.”
IATA has optimized costs with the help of Rackspace Service Blocks, which provide a flexible cloud consumption model, and CloudHealth by VMware®, which provides visibility into costs and continuous optimization.
Becoming “meaner” and embracing a new data-driven future
Another big driver for embarking on its transformational IT journey was to modernize IATA’s data management. This is more crucial than ever.
“We are in an ongoing crisis that will last for a long time,” said Buchner. “We have lost all of the forecasting models that we used in the past. It is no longer possible for us to forecast based on historic data, and our member airlines are struggling with a lack of visibility. We are therefore having to deliver new forecasting applications that provide meaningful information to the whole industry with far less data than we had before — this is where our goal of becoming ‘meaner’ comes in.”
In addition to implementing new forecasting models, IATA must comply with data privacy regulations such as the E.U. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This is especially important given it manages $350 billion a year for its members and large quantities of passenger data.
Buchner said, “We have a big responsibility on our shoulders, and regulatory compliance has only increased as we are having to ask passengers for more personal information to ensure it’s safe for them to fly during the pandemic. This is why Rackspace Technology is a great partner for us, as we know that the team has the expertise to guide us to design our environment with the right governance. On top of this, AWS is focused on delivering great cybersecurity. This will be even more valuable as we introduce Internet of Things (IoT) devices in airports, because we will need to very quickly scale to cope with the increase in data they collect.”
Going green — flying toward a brighter future
Despite the challenges presented by the pandemic, alongside AWS and Rackspace Technology, IATA hopes to continue its path as a best-in-class organization that’s leading the way for the rest of the aviation industry. As a result, it plans to make long-term changes that will enable it to consume fewer resources from the planet.
Buchner concluded, “We are on a mission to represent, lead and serve the airline industry. As far as IATA is concerned, we simply cannot continue to operate at the complex level we have been if we are to survive. We must take this rare opportunity to become leaner, meaner and greener, supported by technology partners like Rackspace Technology and AWS. We hope that, alongside other organizations embarking on similar projects, our transformation and focus on becoming leaner, meaner and greener will set a precedent for the rest of the aviation industry.”
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